Orchomenos, Boeotia: The Village that Rebuilt Its Ancient Theater

How the ancient theater of Orchomenos in Boeotia was transformed from a forgotten monument to a shining example of restoration.


It took persistence, love, and a misunderstanding. These were the ingredients that led to the transformation of the ancient theater of Orchomenos in Boeotia from a forgotten monument to a shining example of restoration, sponsored by the residents of the farming town.

Filled with an inexhaustible love of culture and community, journalist Lambros Rodis followed with great interest the crowdfunding efforts of the Diazoma group, which had made it their mission to restore ancient theaters throughout Greece.  As it happened, there was an ancient theater within the urban fabric of his hometown, Orchomenos, where he had been elected councilman, and he was thinking of ways to better integrate the site. His concern turned to anger when he discovered that a prominent local resident had put up 30,000 euros through the company he worked for to restore the theater of Orchomenos; not Orchomenos in Boeotia, but another town called Orchomenos in Arcadia. “I wrote an angry article in the local paper asking why a local resident was unwilling to support our own theater. Stavros Benos, president of Diazoma, read the piece and summoned me to his office for a chat. He explained that no one could donate money to Orchomenos in Boeotia because no fundraising campaign had been set up for our local theater.”

Rodis immediately got to work organizing a fundraiser. Despite the country’s economic crisis, he began publishing short pieces on the fundraising website every day on the value of the theater, the fundraising campaign, or other theaters soliciting funds. He also publicly thanked everyone for their contribution. Looking back, he acknowledges that one of the most essential features of the fundraiser was its inclusivity. “We received donations from private citizens, businesses, and schools. We even received some anonymous donations. It took us two years to raise the money, but others who had began fundraising before us didn’t succeed as quickly.”

“It was a genuine labor of love. We were in the midst of a crisis when the funds were raised, but the townspeople sincerely believed in our shared vision and all came together,” recalls former mayor Costas Xirogiannis. When they realized that the local community had reached its limit in terms of contribution, citizens and local groups approached both private individuals and foundations, who became involved after observing the locals’ efforts. Among them was the man who had originally brought Orchomenos to the attention of the Diazoma group. Between 2011 and 2012, Orchomenos raised 200,000 euros, the most ever raised for an ancient Greek theater, which was used to fund the restoration study.

From ancient theater to archaeological park

“Orchomenos emerged as the success story of this initiative,” says Stavros Benos, adding that the effort really touched the hearts of the town’s residents. “In Orchomenos, we saw a consensus among local authorities that was quite unique. We achieved a small miracle, and I truly believe that this hitherto unknown monument will soon become most well-known in the country.” Benos was well aware that the Culture Ministry frequently encountered roadblocks when attempting to secure European financing for similar projects due to the difficulty in producing the preliminary research required to support the application. The fundraising efforts were designed to support these studies. However, the case of Orchomenos presented further difficulties. The ancient theater was right next to two other important monuments from different periods: the church of Panaghia Skripous, the oldest Byzantine monument in Boeotia and one of the most important nationwide due to its architectural value, and the Mycenaean tholos tomb of Minyas, which had been studied by Heinrich Schliemann. The resultant study proposed the creation of a large archaeological park, which locals hope will attract visitors to Orchomenos as well as add beauty and historical value to the town.

The theater brought the first guesthouse

The initial contracts were signed in 2014. “We hope that, once the work is completed, it will generate great momentum, attracting more visitors,” says former mayor Giorgos Tzavaras, adding that the tourists who visit are primarily attracted by religious sites. According to Rodis, the restoration effort is already yielding results. “Thanks to the work being done on the theater, Orchomenos now has its first guesthouse. Previously, there was no visitor accommodation. We currently have one guesthouse, which was opened by a local businessman in anticipation of visitors drawn to the monument,” he explains.

The restoration

The construction of the Orchomenos theater has a fascinating history. It dates back to the 4th century BC. Kikki Kalliga, the deputy archaeological ephor of Boeotia in charge of the Orchomenos theater, explains that it was part of the Kings of Macedon’s strategy to limit the influence of the Thebans after their victory in the Battle of Chaironea by favoring cities that had not supported them. One of these was Orchomenos, where they built a theater that could also host the meetings of the Boeotian League, the region’s political federation of member states. They would gather to make decisions about their common festivals, military issues, and taxation. During Roman times, the area grew in wealth and importance, and the theater was remodeled to reflect Roman styles. However, by the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Byzantine era, it had fallen into decline and neglect.

Through the centuries, stone from the theater was used in other buildings, including the church of Skripous. According to Kikki Kalliga, as recently as the late 19th century, stone masonry from the theater was used to build houses. The theater was forgotten and buried as the town’s character changed over time. Heinrich Schliemann, who visited the area at the end of the 19th century, was unaware of its existence. It was rediscovered thanks to the excavations conducted in the early 1970s by Theodoros Sypropoulos from the local ephorate. When it was uncovered in 1973, the orchestra (stage) and the largest section of the curved seating became visible. A few years later, Spyropoulos organized the first International Archeology Conference in Orchomenos. According to Lambros Rodis, another conference will take place this year, to coincide with the theater’s restoration.

A community effort

Kalliga stresses the importance of the restoration project for the local community. “We wondered how people might be affected by the improvement to their public spaces. The site is not yet open to the public, and they may not know what to expect when the work is completed, but what we hear from local residents is encouraging. They stop us in the street and say, ‘Bravo, what you are doing is great!’” Their excitement is amazing and entirely sincere, she observes, adding that the local community is very protective of the project. “In order to begin the restoration, we had to remove the fence surrounding the site, which caused us some concern. What if there was theft or, worse, vandalism? But there was no other option, so the barrier had to go. A year later, there have only been minor thefts, including a battery and some fuel. Nothing else was touched.”

When the restoration is completed in a month’s time, the theater will be ready to host performances and welcome guests. It will be part of the Culture Ministry’s upcoming tour of all the ancient theaters that have been renovated, in collaboration with Diazoma and the National Theater of Greece.

 

This article originally published in Greek at kathimerini.gr



Read More

Aegean Islands

Nea Moni, Chios: Restoring a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Renowned for its majestic mosaics, the 11th-century monastery of Nea...


Thessaloniki

Modiano Market: Restoring the Grandeur of a Thessaloniki Landmark

A complete overhaul of Thessaloniki's Modiano Market is underway which...


Aegean Islands

Apollo’s Other Home: Despotiko Island Steps Out of Delos’ Shadow

Painstaking archaeological excavations and restorations are bearing fruit, elevating this...


Peloponnese

The Parthenon of the Peloponnese: The Temple of Apollo at Bassae

One of the best-preserved monuments from Classical antiquity, the Temple...


Greece Is Blog Posts

An Ode to Local Products

BY Yiouli Eptakili

No more avocado toast and croque-madames. From Thessaloniki to Crete...

read more >

How Can Greece Become a Gastro-Tourism Destination?

BY Yiouli Eptakili

It’s about more than just taking a trip...

read more >

Leaving Room in Greece for Everyone

BY Greece Is

Labor Day, this year September 5, marks the...

read more >